5 Quarantine Companions

Texts consumed during the 2020 pandemic cycles.

A companion text is a text whose company enabled you to proceed on a path less trodden. Such texts might spark a moment of revelation in the midst of overwhelming proximity; they might share a feeling or give you resources to make sense of something that had been beyond your grasp…. [1]

I have a library card from the East Hampton Library. Six months ago, I could take a short, 7-minute walk from my job to the late XIXth century building. This was a daily ritual. Always with headphones…I learned about the word peripatetic during one of these trips, in search of ataraxia

‘[F]reedom from worry’. [T]his is said by the later Pyrrhonists to be the result of the suspension of judgement that they claimed to be able to induce. [T]he effect of making one happy. [2]

I know that by no means am I close to finding grace & freedom from worry,
but books remind me that men and women have tried for millenia, and these times spell a profound need for companions; resources to make sense of unprecedented climate regimes and novel pandemic cycles.

Things are very different now.

I live 740 miles from the East End of Long Island, NY. But the library card still enables an ersatz rite: now my otoconia reverberate with voices trapped in recording sessions…I guess aural facsimiles will have to do. Libby allows me to read while navel gazing, doing the dishes —

corona reading while corona living.

The following list recalls some notes I’ve taken since March 16, 2020;
these words grasp now a lot better than I’ll ever be able to.

Companion #1: Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy; trans. by Carlyle Okey Wicksteed; read by Ralph Cosham.

where everywhere is here
and every when is now

The quarantine was just beginning and these old words boomed from my headphones, while I was doing the dishes. I hit pause, grabbed my notebook, and wrote down poetry that illuminates a relationship between Time and Space. Even when now is during the pandemic — and everywhere is this apartment — these words were a revelation.

Companion #2: Carl G. Jung

Modern Man in Search of a Soul; read by Christopher Prince.

there are no misunderstandings in nature,
they’re only to be found in what man calls understanding.

There are countless avenues that lead to Jung’s ideas: dreams, Freud, Philip K. Dick, Joseph Campbell. Each road is as good as any, but my favorite one is the beauty of a flower: epic advertisement of fitness and force and life. Whatever makes magnolias beautiful, doesn’t need humanity. We should joyfully let ourselves be perplexed by flowers.

Companion #3: Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars; read by Richard Ferrone.

,; : / / (

Anyway, that’s a large part of what economics is: people arbitrarily or as a matter of taste, assign numerical values to non-numerical things, and then pretending that they haven’t just made the numbers up, which they have. Economics is like astrology in that sense, except that economics serves to justify the current power structure.

Words spoken by Arkady Bogdanov: Russian, member of the First Hundred, and possible anarchist. His ideas sparked revolutions on Mars, which were narrated through the course 100 hours of content. Plenty of time to remix classic philosophical battles, relevant for now and future challenges; lessons for current pandemic cycles, and emergent climate regimes.

Companion #4: Ludwig Wittgenstein

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; read by Griffith Chase.

Death is not an event in life; death is not lived through; if by eternity we mean not <<infinite temporal duration>> but <<timelessness>>, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.*

Short audiobook; no more than 4 hours. Most of its content went over my head, but a deeper appreciation for thought resulted from the experience.
This quarantine companion stopped me in my tracks** when, at about 4 minutes left of the Tractatus, started spitting about death and time and the here and now. His arresting words reminded me of Philosophy as a lifelong education on how to die well.

Companion #5: Octavia E. Butler

Kindred; read by Kim Staunton.


There was no shame in raping a Black woman;
but there could be shame in loving one.

Dana — Black, female, writer, and married to a white man — is suddenly unstuck from Time. She appears in antebellum Maryland; alone, with late XXth century cosmogony and experiences. Her gaze reported with jarring detail the debasement of human beings, humiliation of man, woman, and child.

Dana’s involuntary Time-spasms — sparked by the pain of a white ancestor — put the clearest images of America’s original sin within my grasp. These Time-slips — reminiscent of Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titanshould be discussed in curricula across the USA…Butler’s ouvre at the service of dispelling bad faith myths, created by white patriarchy.

Closing remarks

These companions, literary guides, whose stories I’ve consumed in dubious ways, talked about anxieties felt with overwhelming proximity. We cannot make sense of the human condition alone; we need resources, sparks, and revelations in the midst of this senseless mess. Maybe the audiobook is not the ideal book, but this experience revealed to me that text transcends format, that it can be variously read. Text will always be a worthy companion.


[1]Sarah Ahmed (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University;
as cited by Guillermo Rebollo-Gil in Los Actos Gratuitos (Ed. UNE, 2018).
[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


*paraphrased (my notes and goodreads).
**my hands dripping wet over a half-filled kitchen sink.

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